Keeping Kansas City clean: Organizations work together to beautify communities
Katie Greer has seen it all in her neighborhood: crushed cans, plastic pop bottles, shards of glass, shredded and wadded paper, snuffed cigarette butts, moldy leaves and brush, dog poop, graffiti, and dumped tires.
“When there’s litter and trash, it gives the perception that no one cares; that you can come in and commit crimes, throw more litter on the ground, and illegally dump,” says Greer, president of Indian Mound Neighborhood Association in Kansas City, Mo.,’s historic northeast area. “But when a neighborhood is clean and well-maintained, it tells you it’s a safe place to live.”
In response, the neighborhood association organized its first cleanup last fall with the help of Keep Kansas City Beautiful, an affiliate of the Kansas City environmental organization Bridging the Gap. “They have a strong volunteer base and we wanted to tap into it. They helped us with planning and supplies and getting the word out,” Greer says. It was a success. The next northeast-wide cleanup is Saturday, April 28.
Cleanup is more than just about maintaining a beautiful city and taking pride in neighborhoods, says Kate Becker, program manager of KKCB. “Litter and other signs of significant distress — broken windows and graffiti — are directly linked to crime. And litter contributes to the perception of a decrease in property value and possibly discourages businesses from locating in these neighborhoods.”
Each spring, KKCB organizes volunteers to help clean up neighborhoods, parks, trails and rivers, as well as plant community gardens, trees and flowers, as part of the Keep America Beautiful, Great American Cleanup™ national campaign. The city of Kansas City, Mo., Neighborhood Cleanup Assistance Program, “Clean City Initiative,” helps by offering blue trash bags to collect litter, and rents dumpsters to neighborhood groups for this event and other cleanups year-round.
This year KKCB also will offer volunteers a litter cleanup kit, which will include a five-gallon bucket, gloves, safety vests, a first aid kit, trash bags, a map of areas in the city that need cleanup, and a small, hanging scale to weigh the litter they pick up. Volunteers also watch a how-to video. After a cleanup, they return the kit to KKCB and report how much litter weight they collected. The scales are equipped to weigh individual trash bags up to 70 pounds.
But cleanups aren’t just a one-time effort, Becker says. “We also ask people to get in the habit of taking trash bags with them when taking a walk or walking their dogs. We encourage people to take pride in their own block, which is a more long-lasting and sustainable effort.”
Right Thing to Do
Boy Scout Luke Stiles, 15, helped his troop pick up litter along the edges of Longview Lake in south Kansas City, Mo. “Some of the objects were really big. It took several of us to carry them away,” he says. While tedious work at times, he says he enjoyed the experience and is proud to serve his community. “It’s important to keep the lake clean so people can enjoy it for recreation,” he says.
The Heart of America Council-Boy Scouts of America, which serves 36,000 Scouts in 19 districts in metropolitan Kansas City, hosts Good Turn Days, an annual weekend cleanup in April. This year’s event is scheduled for April 21; however, participating districts may host cleanups throughout the month. Projects include cleanup of area lakes, parks and trails, and activities such as building a retainer wall, painting a playground or planting trees.
“The scope of our projects is unimaginable,” says Matt Armstrong, marketing director at HOAC-BSA. “And just because we have a designated cleanup day doesn’t mean we don’t go on throughout the year. It’s the cornerstone of scouting — giving back to the community to make it a better place to live. It’s the right thing to do.”
Trail Minders and River Rescuers
Members of the Kansas City Track Club do more than run. They also pick up litter before, during and after races. Last year, they picked up between 300 and 400 pounds of litter.
“We’re running in a beautiful environment, running off-road on woodland trails. It drives us nuts to see litter,” says Ben Holmes, president of Trail Nerds and board member of the Kansas City Track Club and Earthriders Trail Association. “On regular runs, we pick up trash and discard it in trash bins along the way. We’re very much in tune with the environment and want to keep it looking good.”
Litter also impacts waterways, says Vicki Richmond, project coordinator of Project Blue River Rescue, and member of the Little Blue Watershed Coalition and Healthy Rivers Initiative. “Litter on the ground goes into storm drains, which goes into the creeks and then flows into the river,” she says. “It has a huge impact on fish, birds and wildlife.”
The organization sponsors the largest one-day river cleanup in Missouri, in partnership with Jackson County and Kansas City, Mo.,’s parks and recreation departments. This year’s river sweep is Saturday, March 31 at Lakeside Nature Center in Swope Park. Area Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and community volunteers will help pick up litter and also block access to illegal dumping sites.
“We have found huge dump sites and it’s not just bottles and cans. We pulled 220 tons of trash one year,” Richmond says. “Never underestimate what 900 people can do in one day.”
It began with a seed of an idea: plant 10,000 tulips along one of Kansas City’s most well-known urban streets in honor of its namesake, city father Dr. Benoit Troost (1786-1859).
“Some called us crazy,” says Durwin Rice, founder and director of Tulips on Troost, an urban beautification program that now seeks to plant 1 million tulips along Troost Avenue, as well as throughout the city. “But we soon realized that wasn’t very many. So we planted 75,000 bulbs in our first year. We’ve been chugging along ever since.”
Today, TOT plants — with the help of community volunteers, neighborhood associations and college students — an estimated 75,000 bulbs annually in the fall. Since its inception six years ago, an estimated 350,000 to 375,000 tulip bulbs have been planted in the inner city. Many are perennials that could bloom, depending on conditions, anywhere from five to 15 years. Blooming season is in late March and April.
TOT also helps neighborhood associations start their own tulip planting events and provides them with free tulip bulbs. For example, this season, Marlborough Community Center planted about to 10,000 bulbs. Students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City planted 29,000 tulips last year, Rice says, while Rockhurst University students planted an astounding 75,000 tulips in one year alone.
Former Rockhurst students Margaret Hansbrough and Andy Julo participated in tulip plantings along Troost Avenue, historically considered to be Kansas City’s racial dividing line.
“Tulips on Troost is a project that’s significantly helped change the perception of Troost — both how residents see it and how those who cross it every day see it — for the positive,” says Hansbrough, who grew up a few blocks west of Troost and now lives east of Troost.
Julo agrees with her. “Do tulips rehab buildings or get people out of Section 8? No,” he says. “Do they serve as a reminder that somebody believes in us, that this is something worth investing in? Yes.”
Or, as Rice likes to say: “It’s not just about tulips. It’s about engaging the community in its own beautification efforts. You can’t look at a tulip and not smile.”
Links to resources
Bridging the Gap, www.bridgingthegap.org
Heart of America Council-Boy Scouts of America, www.hoac-bsa.org
Kansas City Track Club, www.kctrack.org
Keep Kansas City Beautiful, www.kkcb.org
Neighborhood Cleanup Assistance Program, “Clean City Initiative,” Kansas City, Mo., www.kcmo.org
Project Blue River Rescue, www.friendsoflakesidenaturecenter.org
Ripple Glass Recycling, www.rippleglass.com
Tulips on Troost, www.troostavenue.com
Did you know?
According to Keep America Beautiful, litter cleanup costs the United States almost
$11.5 billion each year.